Yesterday was the 10th day of a festival here in Rishikesh. The streets were crowded. Fireworks and crackers were blowing off, people were screaming, the devil were set on fire, bands were walking the streets and vehicles with enormous loudspeakers deafened my ears. I decided to stay in. I sat on the balcony and enjoyed the evening coolness.
This Indian man, close to his thirties, comes and starts circling around, being so obvious he wants to start a conversation but doesn’t know how. Eventually he finds the courage and approaches, asking the most common questions. But then he says something that I have never heard before and almost made me fall off the chair.
– Why did you come to India?
– It is an interesting country.
– It is like no other country in the world. But why come here to see this, his hand making a sweeping gesture towards the street where music and firecrackers fill the air, while making a face of dislike.
– Yes, just because india is like no other country in the world.
– But why do you want to see this, same gesture, when you have everything you need in your country.
This dysfunctional conversation continues for a while, me realising I will not reach him. So I ask him why he is here, why is he traveling. Very honestly he tells me that by ten pm every evening he starts drinking and then he sleeps all day. He says he enjoys it. And I realise that no matter what I tell him about my reason for traveling he will not get it.
A few days ago I was sitting in the common area at the hostel and an Englishman asked me, Do you know a good place for yoga. No, I say, I really don’t. But I do know the best place to have chai and conversation. Oh, where is that, he asks. Come, I say, I will buy you a chai. So we go there, order chai, and it doesn’t take more than five minutes before an elderly man joins us and we have the most interesting conversation. The elderly man and I are on the same page. Traveling is not about checking off lists or showing off fancy drinks or filling our daily schedules with tons of activities. It is about what we are just doing. It is about meeting people, having conversations, learning from the locals, observing how other societies work without judging, being the present and a lot of other things. Since then the young Englishman have been visiting the chai stall frequently and even introduced others to it.
He is telling my advice to other travellers, about slowing down, about being present about not focusing on the self but on what is going on around him.
There is so much me, the self and selfies that we forget to see what is happening around us.
To be honest, with all technology provided and with that all the knowledge and videos it contains we really wouldn’t need to travel in order to see the world. I know, it is different when experiencing it for yourself. But to be honest, the only difference would be the interaction with other people. Locals and other travellers.
When focusing on others we not only learn about their lives and culture but we also learn about ourselves.